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Dance Studio Owners

Studio Directors, is faculty selection of music a constant stress? Do you have to approve all music choices because teachers choose the same music or inappropriate content, music that does not match your recital theme, dated and overdone songs, etc.?  How do you diplomatically suggest to faculty that you’d prefer them to think of another idea? Being able to balance artistic directorship without stifling teachers creativity is a fine line. Sometimes though, for the sake of the business and developing memorable works that showcase professionalism, variety and artistry is necessary.

Music selection is an integral part of any choreographer’s process. Now magnify that by multiple choreographers and it’s the difference of presenting a cohesive and enjoyable show or a menagerie of songs aimlessly put together for recital. Regardless of the age and level of your students, if it’s important enough for you to pick a central theme to your end-of-year shows, then it’s important enough to follow through with the correct array of music.

What one often forgets about is with a little bit of research and thinking outside of the box, your studio pieces could transcend the typical, clichéd themes we see at competitions over and over. How many times do we see the same song done a million different ways simply because it’s trendy, or newly released or has been used on TV? Why wouldn’t you want to perk up the ears and eyes of judges and your audiences and bring them something they have never heard before? Yes, it does maybe take some research, but reminding faculty that there is an infinite abundance of music out there in the world will also help minimize overlap with other teachers. The problem is, we all get into our comfort zone and we become tunnel-visioned. We scroll through our playlists and use things that are right there or handy. We need to keep in mind that not every choice has to (and shouldn’t) have recognizable singers or lyrics attached to them. They do not and should not be played in rotation on the local Top 40 radio station.     

Teachers need to expand their musical palette as well so that they can pass that education onto their students. Introducing them to songs from different eras, cultures, genres and composers elevates their dance training to a completely other level. Maybe, one piece they dance to a solo Spanish guitar. Or, maybe they are introduced to the sounds of an East African tribal group. Maybe they do a contemporary piece to a selection from Bach, Beethoven or Vivaldi or a Doo-Wop group of the 50’s? Maybe your younger ones are introduced to the songs from obscure movie musicals? Maybe one piece devotes itself to nature sound effects or electronic music? The ideas and choices are limitless. Sometimes as studio director, you need to inspire your faculty to try something new so that new breath is pumped into everyone’s creative process.  Balance is key. There is always room for the fun, jazz and hip hop numbers or great classic songs we all remember and they should be sprinkled into the mix! That’s what’s going to give your overall productions a well-rounded sampling for everyone! So have your faculty mix it up, research, learn and get out of their musical comfort zone! It will be a fresh arrangement everyone will enjoy and appreciate. It will also be sure to bring your studio’s artistry to the next level when audiences admire your eclecticism and originality! Food for thought!

Good Luck!

See you in the dance studio,


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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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